All of us have had to put up with restrictions “of a kind that we have never seen before in peace or war”, as UK prime minister Boris Johnson put it.
We have had to re-evaluate many things, big and small, from how we connect with loved ones to how we approach door handles. Many of us have had to redefine what our homes mean to us as they stretch to accommodate activities we could previously undertake in schools, offices, gyms and cafés.
Some of us have even had to redefine our households. My India-based mother, for one. In the hours before lockdown, as people took stock of their larders and medicine cabinets, she persuaded a widowed niece and her own veteran masseuse to move into her New Delhi home where the terraces offer an intermittent breeze and an uninterrupted view of an elaborate 16th-century mausoleum.
Living in the middle of London with two young children, I needed to be more pragmatic. I gave up one spare room to bring our nanny into our South Kensington home and prepared the other for a friend who needed to move to be isolated from her husband, a surgeon. Several other married friends subsequently pointed out they too would like to be isolated from their husbands. But by then my household was full.
Conscious of my responsibility towards the additional souls on board, I took stock of what resources I could call on. Trebling our usual order from the Freddie’s Flowers delivery service was the obvious place to start. It escapes me now why this particular luxury had struck me as essential at the time. Regardless, I take comfort in knowing that over the past few months, staff, house guests and my children’s online teachers may have seen or heard some bizarre things, but it has always been against the backdrop of a tidy room with fresh flowers.
As Ocado’s grocery deliveries were whittled down to one a week and the food halls at Harrods, which had served customers throughout the second world war, shuttered early in the current crisis, we had to find our sustenance elsewhere. Fortuitously, the Chelsea gym that was my regular haunt BC (before Covid) was loath to leave its members vulnerable to the dangers of what has since been identified as “coronacarbs”. We can have little extras such as protein shakes, artisanal coffees and snacks delivered to our doorsteps.
Once the lockdown eased a little, the many bijou boulangeries and épiceries that dot our neighbourhood reopened. Life began to look a bit more normal. Only it was not, marked by the twin terrors of home schooling and working from home. Fairly early, I felt justified in bringing in reinforcements. Despite my two degrees in finance, I have been called out on more than one occasion by my seven-year-old son for getting Year Two maths wrong. This is not good for my self-esteem, nor does it bode well for the boy’s continued wellbeing.
After much shouting, we found relief in online tutoring. At £65-95 an hour depending on whether it is for chess or maths, a tutor costs half as much as the psychiatrist we may have needed otherwise.
As a freelance journalist blessed with an inheritance as well as a venture-capitalist husband, my work wardrobe is split in a rather self-contradictory manner between Chanel tweed blazers that I wear to interviews and athleisure for when I toil in front of a computer. Neither fit the brief for Working From Home While Under Constant Electronic Surveillance. “Casual but groomed,” advised a personal shopper who encouraged me to look at boiler suits in linen or denim. Not one to veer too far from the familiar, I turned instead to Olivia von Halle for silk pyjamas in colours guaranteed to make the dullest Zoom meeting come alive.
Armed thus, with the advantages of wealth, I was insulated from many of the pandemic’s challenges. But the reality of life and death remains a great leveller.
Seeing the Covid news reports made me think hard. I listed the things I should talk about with my widowed mother in case the virus denied us a future. We debated the need for a revised will, tried to untangle past misunderstandings and made our peace while leaving some differences unresolved. Neither of us has acknowledged the possibility that my trip to India last year for a friend’s wedding may be our final memory together as mother and daughter.
We each carry on in opposite corners of the world. My mother grieves for a friend of half a century who succumbs to a Covid-like infection, I stand at my doorstep to pay my last respects to an elderly neighbour as his body is carried into an ambulance. Wealth may offer some protection against the virus, but it is not a talisman.
Instead, it is the people who surround and support us that keep us afloat. Sanjay, a 30-year old father of two who chooses to stay on in Delhi to cook and clean for my mother rather than return to his village; Peter the postman who drops off my mail with a smile and a promise he will be back the next day; the police officers in Hyde Park who turn on the lights of their patrol car to amuse my children.
And even my old friend could not have been transported to the mortuary if the ambulance crew had not been ready to take the risk and bear him away.
Shruti Advani is a freelance writer on private banking
The standfirst has been amended since publication
This article is part of FT Wealth, a section providing in-depth coverage of philanthropy, entrepreneurs, family offices, as well as alternative and impact investment.
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